There is a big stupid redwood tree in the tiny plot in front of my house. It’s stupid because it would be much better off in the forest with its brothers, less than two miles away, rather than littering the sidewalk and threatening my roof. To make matters worse, the utilities company appears to have the right to trim it any way it wants. So, my sequoia looks like an old toilet brush. The city of Santa Cruz won’t let me cut it down and it has the impudence to ask for a special high fee merely to hear my appeal.
Santa Cruz has no manufacturing. It was all run out of town in past years by the left-wing/Green political class. It’s squeezed between the usually breezy Pacific Ocean one one side and wooded mountains on the other. The wind is from the west, from the ocean, four days out of five. My stupid redwood tree right downtown is essential to maintain air purity, I am sure!
Anyway, the redwood tree has one redeeming virtue: It’s home to an abundant and varied fauna. At the apex is a large population of squirrels. They seem to be divided into two tribes, or two ethnic groups. One tribe is red with a tinge of brown, as you would expect in California. The other tribe’s coloring ranges from jet-black to kind of black. The racial strife between the two groups is incessant. At sunrise, they pursue one another across my roof. All day, they set ambushes and they chase the other guys up and down the tree and on the ground.
It’s not always clear what the squirrel warfare is all about. There seems to be plenty of living space for all (“lebensraum,” in German). Or it’s only the old guys fighting over mating rights. Or the old females just being bitchy. Or it’s the young guys that are aggressive because they seldom get any. I know however what they are not fighting about. They are not merely fighting about food as you would expect ordinary forest-dwelling squirrels to do, for example, that must tear each others’ eyes out for every tiny pine cone seed, even every little bitter-tasting acorn.
The squirrels on my redwood tree, or their redwood tree, feed exclusively on peanuts. This is true for both the gray-red and the black tribes. It’s been true for at last four years. It’s a perplexing fact but a fact nonetheless. Not only do I see them eating peanuts. I see them burying them in various parts of my backyard and I see them digging up peanuts in the winter.
At first, I though the squirrels were benefiting from a kid’s lost lunch. Then I suspected that a neighbor fed them peanuts. But, no, in the end, I would have caught him in the act. Then I guessed they had chanced on a commercial cache of peanuts. But this has been going one too long. The only possible valid explanation is hard to accept: They have access to a truck that delivers peanuts to various small stores in my area and they are fairly aware of delivery schedules.
So, there you are. I did not tell you I believed my explanation. It’s just the best I can do at the moment. Or, it’s just one of those mysteries of nature, like teats on bulls.
[Editor's note: this essay first appeared on Facts Matter on February 17th 2011]